This is entry number 221, published on 10 March 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry reports on the publication of the first 'Local Impact Reports' by local authorities.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) is currently considering two applications, both for 'energy from waste' plants (we don't use the 'I' word) and both promoted by Covanta Energy. The one that is further through the process is for a 65MW plant in Bedfordshire ('Rookery South') and the other is for a 73MW plant in Merthyr Tydfil ('Brig y Cwm'). The leading application is progressing through the authorisation process and how it is being treated is obviously of great interest to those preparing applications themselves.

Summary of progress

Until last week, the following steps had been undertaken. First, the application was actually made on 5 August 2010, two days after the first ever (but subsequently rejected) application was made to the IPC. The IPC accepted the application on 26 August. The promoter was then entitled to publicise the making of the application and kick off the objection period, but did not do so until 7 October. The objection period ended on 19 November and 1004 objections were made (or strictly speaking 'representations', since they could be in favour, but almost all were against).

The ball then went into the IPC's court and it appointed a panel of three commissioners, and held a 'preliminary meeting' on 17 January 2011. At this meeting (reported here), three matters were discussed:

  • whether the list of principal issues previously published covered the main points of contention,
  • whether the proposed timetable was acceptable and,  
  • the only one to attract legal submissions, whether there should be any 'specific issue hearings' - the IPC initially thought not.  

The IPC has no discretion as to whether to hold 'open floor hearings' or 'compulsory acquisition hearings', which it must do on request (requests to be in by 6 June), but it can decide whether or not to hold hearings on specific issues.

In the end it changed its initial view and decided to hold one on the development consent order, requirements (conditions) and s106 agreements (planning obligations), which will be on 13 May. On the issues front, I heard someone from the CPRE say at a conference that they were quite pleased with the issues that the IPC had identified, which is encouraging.

New developments

Last week saw the expiry of the deadline for full representations to be made and local impact reports to be submitted (28 February). Of the 1004 original objectors, only 94 made full representations, plus a huge bundle of documents from the promoter, Covanta Energy. There are questions about whether the facility will have enough suppliers, but merely incinerating the project documentation should keep it going for a while. The representations can be found here.

Two of the local authorities entitled to do so, indeed the two 'host' authorities, have submitted 'Local Impact Reports' (LIRs), which are therefore the first of their kind. These are the only named documents that the IPC must take into account when making its decision and therefore have a special significance. No-one has been quite sure what they should contain, so the first real examples will be eagerly received.

The application site happens to straddle the boundary of two authorities, despite being fairly small. The neighbours of the two host authorities (14 of them) are entitled to submit LIRs as well, but none chose to do so. The two host councils have certainly been busy, since they also submitted detailed representations of over 300 pages each.

They can be found here and here. They are in a very similar format albeit not identical, indeed they were both prepared by the same person (Susan Marsh, to whom I managed to chat about her unenviable task at a conference on the Planning Act last month).

While the written representations are against the project, the LIRs are more neutral. They set out each council's planning policies and then cover the main environmental topics in summary, referring to the council's detailed representations and the applicant's environmental statement. There are also a few comments on the development consent order, requirements and s106 agreement.

Finally, the LIR responds to the recommendation in IPC guidance that a view is given on the relative weighting to be given to social, economic and environmental factors. In fact it does not give weightings, but then it doesn't need to, since it concludes that the socio-economic impacts outweigh the benefits, and the same goes for the environmental impacts.

Next steps

The next deadline is 28 March, when further representations can be made about others' representations, the local impact reports, and the answers to the IPC's questions.

Judging by the length of the submissions, the main opponents seem to be shaping up to be: Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Our Marston Vale, 25 town and parish councils, and rival waste company Waste Recycling Group Ltd.

Finally, the IPC is looking for its first 'assessor' (expert adviser) presumably to assist in both live applications, since their field of expertise is to be 'energy from waste plant emissions'. This should please local MP Nadine Dorries, who has been conducting a Parliamentary campaign against the project principally on that subject (see this Westminster Hall debate, for example). The deadline for applications is 18 March and more information can be found here.